Literary References in Kuroshitsuji/Black Butler
There are a crap ton of references to literature in Kuroshitsuji, and after re-reading all of Kuro I was really motivated to make a giant list of the literary references.
So I did.
The Admirable History of Possession (Sebastian Michaelis)
In the 1600s, a French inquisitor named Sebastien Michaelis co-wrote The Admirable History of Possession and Conversion of a Penitent Woman. It included a classification/hierarchy of demons that is sometimes referenced in esoteric literature. I’m guessing Yana named Sebastian after this guy.
Famous Poets (Snakes)
All of Snake’s snakes are named after famous canonical writers.
These include, but are not limited to, John Webster, John Donne, Emily Bronte, Oscar Wilde, John Keats, William Wordsworth, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Peter and Wendy (Peter and Wendy from the Circus arc)
Peter and Wendy was originally a play/novel from the early 1900s and (as you’ve probably guessed) was the source material for the 1953 Disney film, Peter Pan. Peter and Wendy from Kuro have a medical condition where their bodies literally “never grow up,” which is something that happens in Peter Pan, but in that story it’s a result of magic instead of biology. Peter and Wendy from Kuro are also trapeze performers, which is the closest thing in a circus to flying.
Sherlock Holmes (The Phantomhive Mansion Murder Arc)
This might seem pretty obvious and yeah it kind of is, but there are a lot of fun little details that relate to Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle.
- In chapter 39 of Kuro, Arthur admits to Ciel that he would rather write historical novels instead of detective fiction, but his editors told him historical novels wouldn’t sell. Ciel then says that Arthur should just make a name writing mysteries and that after that the history novels will sell based on his name alone. Arthur Conan Doyle has gained quite the reputation as the guy who wrote mysteries and got sick of them while no one cared about his historical novels, so this conversation is actually pretty funny.
- Some of the side characters in the Murder arc have names based on characters from the original Sherlock stories. Irene Diaz shares a first name with Irene Adler (both characters are opera singers) and Patrick Phelps shares a last name with Percy Phelps (both of whom have nervous dispositions).
- In chapter 45, Sebastian (as Jeremy) points out that Arthur has written a bunch of story ideas on the inside of his sleeves. The words written in his sleeves include “pearl” (”The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”) and “sign” (The Sign of Four). There’s also “India” and “secret room,” but I’m not sure what specific stories those are referring to.
- Fun bonus fact: Jeremy Rathbone (aka Sebastian in disguise) is named after 2 actors: Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone. Both of them played Sherlock Holmes at one point in their careers.
Beeton’s/Punch (magazines that Ciel reads)
In chapter 39 Arthur mentions that “A Study in Scarlet” was published in Beeton’s magazine, and that he’s surprised that someone in a position of nobility would read such a magazine. Beeton’s actually exists and “A Study in Scarlet” was first published in Beeton’s in November of 1887.
In response to Arthur’s surprise, Ciel mentions that he also reads Punch. This was also a real magazine, but what makes it weird is that one of the editors of Punch was a guy named Edmund Knox. One of Edmund’s brothers was a guy named Ronald Knox, who wrote detective fiction.
Propertius’ “Elegiae” (The poem being taught at Weston)
In the public school arc, Sebastian is teaching a Latin poem that relates to some themes and events in the Kuro universe. Here’s a link to a more in depth post about the quote.
Micah Clarke (novel that Ciel buys)
In chapter 85 (the one where everyone goes shopping), Ciel notices that Arthur wrote a historical novel called Micah Clarke. This was an actual novel by Arthur Conan Doyle from 1889. It’s also hilarious that Ciel complains about the historical novel because he wants Arthur to just write more mysteries. Wow.
The Wizard of Oz (Sieglinde Sullivan)
(This one took me forever to get because I could never pronounce her first name properly).
In German, “Sieglinde” is pronounced “See-glinda,” which reminded me of Glinda the good witch from The Wizard of Oz. At first I thought that might be a coincidence, but then I realized that’s she’s also known as the “Green Witch,” which calls to mind the Wicked Witch of the West. Furthermore, her residence is the Emerald Castle, which is possibly a reference to the Emerald City.
Also, the werewolf stuff takes place in southern Germany (Glinda was the good witch of the south).
(Maybe Wolfram is her little dog too!)
Fenian Cycle (Finny’s name)
In chapter 100, there’s a flashback where we see Ciel naming Finny after the lead character in a book titled Fenian Cycle: Celtic Mythology. The Fenian Cycle is a real story that’s part of Irish mythology and, just as Ciel says, the lead character was named for his blonde hair.
Othello (Othello the reaper)
Othello is a Shakespeare play (my personal favourite Shakespeare play by the by) in which the title character is tricked into thinking that his wife was having an affair and murders her in a fit of jealous rage (the person who tricked him, Iago, convinced him that this was the best course of action). Like 5 minutes after he kills her it’s revealed that she didn’t cheat on him and he just fell for a really elaborately set up lie. Othello kills himself after discovering the truth.
Yeah…I think it’s fairly easy to figure out that Othello (in the play) has a parallel to a character who we know committed suicide at one point. TBH this is my favourite reference in all of Kuro because we can kind of guess the character’s backstory based on his name.
Side note: Othello (the Kuro character) works in forensics, which is fitting since the field of forensics involves finding hard evidence to prove guilt or innocence. Shakespeare’s Othello had to rely on sight, verbal information, and assumptions, which led to him falsely accusing his wife of cheating on him.
Other stuff: In chapter 14, Ciel has a nightmare involving Poe’s “The Raven” and the early part of the circus arc mentions the Pied Piper. Both of these are well-known/explained in the story, so I didn’t feel the need to write a whole thing about each of them.
If you noticed anything missing, please add it to the post! (Although make note that these are only the literary references. There are like 10,000 historical references in Kuro and I’m not experienced enough in history to notice all of them, so those can be another post.)